Being trapped in paradise seems like the honeymoon of a lifetime, until it unexpectedly costs an extra $6,000 to get home. That’s what happened to South African couple Olivia and Raul De Freitas when they ended up on an extended vacation in the Maldives when the coronavirus lockdown hit the country.
“It's a great story but definitely an expensive one. We never forget to leave that part out, how expensive it was,” Olivia told InsideEdition.com.
Raul added, “In case people get too envious, we remind them of the expenses.”
The newlyweds explained their honeymoon was just supposed to be a six-day vacation. They would fly to the Maldives and stay at the Cinnamon Velifushi Maldives on March 22, flying back to South Africa on March 28.
When they left for their vacation, the coronavirus had already begun impacting travels in some parts of the world but there had not been anything specific yet that would affect them and they had been reassured they would have no trouble getting home as South African citizens.
But their flights started getting cancelled, with even the airline ceasing operations, and both South Africa and the Maldives announced travel restrictions quicker than the couple could organize a last-minute trip back.
They eventually ended up in a WhatsApp group chat with other South Africans organized by the embassy, which offered periodic updates and answered questions. “They had planned a flight there for all the South Africans that were stuck there for the first of April, and then it didn’t happen,” Olivia explained. “Then the sixth of April, and then the night before, they said it wasn’t happening.”
In the meantime, Olivia and Raul said they tried to make the most of their unlikely stay. The hotel, which is still listing on their website as $750 a night, is normally at capacity with 200 rooms. During their stay, they were the only people there.
“One thing we also didn't expect our lockdown on holiday would be the relationships we made with the staff there,” Raul said. He spent part of the honeymoon playing soccer with the staff, who were even nice enough to surprise them with a romantic dinner on the beach. “They set up a private marquee for us on the beach and served us supper there. That was really, really nice of them.”
Olivia explained the staff were all from different countries and “everyone at that point was just frustrated because they couldn't go home, either. Their flights for their home cities were also canceled. Everyone was just stuck in the same boat, even though we all come from different walks of life.”
But even paradise got repetitive after a while.
“In the beginning it's very exciting because it's something you haven't seen before, and you go snorkeling every day. The water, it’s so warm you can spend hours in the water and snorkeling, seeing all the fish and baby sharks,” Olivia explained. “But then, you just start taking it for granted. You don’t appreciate the crystal blue clear water. We also weren't allowed to leave the island because all the other islands were on lockdown, so we were stuck there. All we could do was eat, sleep, beach, snorkel.”
Raul explained that the constant worry of how they would get home and how much it would eventually cost also cast a shadow on their trip of a lifetime. “You're always thinking, ‘Hey, how much is tomorrow going to cost? The flight still needs to be paid for,’” he said.
The group was eventually able to charter a flight on their own for April 11 – which would cost the group $104,000 out of their own pocket. Olivia and Raul’s share was $3,000 each.
“We were only 40 passengers, so we had to cover the costs amongst ourselves,” Raul explained. “And at that stage some people couldn't afford the full price.”
The couple is now home safe and after a 14-day quarantine period, Raul is back at work as a butcher and missing the Maldives sun, even though the vacation was more than they bargained for. “We had a lot more freedom in the Maldives, having the whole island to ourselves,” he said.
“It's great, but obviously now that's we're back, we miss paradise. You're never happy with the situation you're in. When we were there, we wanted to be home, and now we wish we were back there,” Olivia said.